Alberta Superstore workers have rejected a contract offer from Loblaw Companies Ltd., increasing the likelihood of a provincewide strike this Sunday.
Christine McMeckan, a communication representative with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, said employees at Real Canadian Superstore and Real Canadian Liquorstore outlets voted on the company proposal Sunday and Monday. Ninety-eight per cent of those from the Edmonton and Calgary areas who cast ballots voted to turn down the offer, while workers at stores elsewhere in Alberta combined for a 96 per cent rejection rate.
UFCW Local 401 issued Loblaw with notice on Sept. 26 that its members would hit the picket lines on Oct. 6 if an agreement wasn’t reached by then.
McMeckan said the main points of contention include reduced hours for Superstore’s mostly part-time workforce. Loblaw also wants to roll back wages in the case of new hires and give existing employees only “nominal” wage increases, she added.
The company has also not responded to a UFCW demand that sick workers receive some compensation for their days off, said McMeckan. That’s important to help ensure employees who are ill stay home and not jeopardize food safety, she explained.
“We have bargaining planned for Thursday and Friday, but unless the employer comes back with something drastically different in those key areas we will be on strike Sunday,” said McMeckan.
She confirmed that the strike would be provincewide. There are approximately 8,500 Superstore employees in Alberta, including about 300 in Red Deer.
The Advocate was not able to obtain comment from Loblaw on Tuesday. But Julija Hunter, the company’s vice-president of public relations, said previously that her company was committed to reaching a negotiated settlement and did not want to comment on specific issues during the collective bargaining process.
She confirmed that Loblaw does have “contingency plans” should a strike occur.
“We know that they will hire scabs and rely on scab labour in order to operate their stores,” said McMeckan. “We will be doing our very best to talk to the public and have them support us.
“The workers will be out there handing out leaflets, letting the public know what the issues are and asking the public to stay away while we’re on strike and shop at any other place that is not a Loblaw operation.” Superstore and Extra Foods workers in Manitoba recently reached a tentative agreement with Loblaw, but a ratification vote will not take place until later this month, said McMeckan.
She said that deal won’t serve as a precedent for Alberta, because the economy and scale of operations in Manitoba are much different.
Superstore employees in Alberta have never gone out on strike, although they have voted in favour of such action in the past.
“We’re not optimistic, but we’re always hopeful,” said McMeckan of the current situation.